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State of the Animal Rights Movement
by Kim W. Stallwood

The Summit for the Animals is an annual, two-day informal meeting of the CEOs of national animal advocacy organizations. The agenda for each Summit is determined by the Summit's executive committee and this committee is comprised of nominated representatives from the meeting. The Summit meets in different parts of the U.S. each year and representatives from the local organizations active in that particular region are invited to attend.

At its recent meeting in St. Louis, MO, April 6-8, the editors of The Animals' Agenda, Animal People, and The Animals' Voice were invited to make presentations about the state of the movement and the role of the Summit. Jeri Lerner and Laura Moretti of The Animals' Voice were unable to attend the meeting. Merritt Clifton from Animal People has already posted his speech on AR News. I delayed posting my speech for two reasons: (1) to help facilitate an open and honest exchange of views at the Summit, all discussions are confidential; members of the Summit committee recently clarified for me the position that presentations made at the meeting are not considered confidential, and (2) immediately after the Summit I was preoccupied with preparing to leave the U.S. for the "Animal Rights View of England" tour with 14 activists from 10 states. I will be posting shortly a report on that trip. Now, therefore, I post the text of my presentation.

My recent trip to England has strengthened my resolve that our movement in the U.S. will not succeed in making legislative gains for animals until we have succeeded in establishing animal advocacy as a mainstream political issue.

State of the Movement and the Role of the Summit for the Animals

Presentation made by Kim W. Stallwood, editor in chief, The Animals' Agenda, at the Summit for the Animals, St. Louis, MO, April 1995.

Forty-seven percent of the respondents to a national poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times in December 1993 said that animals "are just like humans in all important ways." In view of this charitable spirit, one is tempted to ask why membership in the animal rights movement is not larger than it is. There are, according to the Census Bureau, 204 million persons 21 years of age or older in the United States. Forty-seven percent of 204 million is 96 million people who believe that animals "are like humans in all important ways." There are, according to the generous but self-serving estimates of our opponents outside the movement, 20 million people in the animal rights congregation. Where, then, are the other 76 million people who said that animals "are just like humans in all important ways"?

Perhaps some of them think--as Groucho Marx is reputed to have said--"I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." But might it also be that some fledgling animal advocates, looking at the animal rights movement and its leaders, say to themselves, "I wouldn't want to belong to any movement that would have those people as members"?

As salaried employees and directors of not-for-profit animal advocacy organizations we are entrusted with our donor's funds to complete successfully our organizations' missions. This is a preeminent responsibility. Every action we take and every word we speak demonstrates our leadership ability--or our lack of it.

Unfortunately, we are exhibiting more lack than luster at present. To be sure, we are currently experiencing a crisis in leadership at both the local and the national levels of our movement. This leadership crisis manifests itself in our inability to articulate a long-term plan to accomplish specific objectives. And even if we could articulate a long-term strategy, I suspect that our leadership crisis disqualifies us from being able to discuss it, for virtually every discussion about our movement's future degenerates into a battle over egos and organizational turf.

Success in the animal rights movement is not a question of deciding which is a more effective vehicle for change: a national society or a local organization. They are both essential.

Success is not a question of competition between national organizations and grassroots groups. Each has a responsibility to help the other. Nor is success a question of whether incremental measures that improve the welfare of animals are inimical to the preferred goal of abolition based on the rights of animals. No one has ever proven that a small step obviates a larger one.

Success in animal rights is, however, a question of the mind-numbing quantities of individual animals whose suffering cries out to us. In order to hear those cries more clearly, we must reject the artificial constructions that divide our movement. We must unite around a long-term strategy that balances our utopian vision with pragmatic politics.

Instead of cluttering electronic bulletin boards with personal vendettas, animal advocates should be discussing real issues about our movement and about the way in which our movement interacts with society. I am not saying that we should tip toe away from disagreements. It is healthy to have an exchange of views, but debates must be carried out in a respectful and meaningful way. We must not permit disagreement to divide us. Nor must we mislabel a respect for civility in discourse as censorship.

Our single concern for animals must outweigh at all times any dispute constructed on ideology, strategy, funding, egos, and organizational turf. I am frequently at a loss to understanding why a humane movement based on ethics and the rights of the individual can be so inhumane to its own members. It is true that we are accountable to our boards and to the harsh realities of our annual fundraising campaigns, but we are ultimately accountable to the animals and to those individuals and those foundations who make possible our programs and who pay our salaries.

Ken Shapiro, the president of the board of directors of The Animal Rights Network, Inc., which publishes The Animals' Agenda, describes animal advocates as "caring sleuths"--a hybrid of Mother Teresa and Sherlock Holmes. As caring sleuths we see the invisible animal suffering. We not only see animal suffering, we also seek it out; and as we seek out the invisible animal suffering, it permeates our lives and influences how we live and what we think. We are outraged that others cannot see what is clearly visible to us. We become the unwelcome guest who points out that the food the host is serving was once a living individual.

During the last twenty years or so the animal rights movement was society's unwelcome guest. Nevertheless, we fought hard to be noticed and to be heard. There is no denying that progress has been made, albeit painfully slow and pitifully meager at times. The good news is that animal rights has arrived and is now being recognized. We have become the vegetarian guest for whom the host must cater. Our next goal is to persuade the host to prepare a vegetarian dinner for all the guests. And then for the host to become vegetarian and, eventually, vegan.

All the talk and the theorizing notwithstanding, there is one inescapable conclusion about leadership: It ultimately consists of actions, not positions. A supreme illustration of this fact is a campaign that took the lead in establishing animal protection as a legitimate political issue in Great Britain.

This campaign, which was called "Putting Animals into Politics," was launched in 1977 by the General Election Coordinating Committee for Animal Protection. Better known as GECCAP, this committee consisted of individual animal rights experts and representatives from national animal protection groups. Its founding members included the League Against Cruel Sports and Compassion In World Farming.

Before I describe that campaign, let me say that one of the roles I envision for the Summit for the Animals is the fostering of dialog that would inspire animal rights groups in this country to cooperate in a similar campaign.

GECCAP's platform comprised a general mission statement, the identification of four areas of concern (companion animals, farm animals, laboratory animals, and wildlife), and a list of goals (abolishing the battery cage, banning the use of dogs for hunting, halting the live export of food animals, and so forth).

Before the GECCAP campaign, the political status of animals in Great Britain was much the same as the political status of animals in the United States today--rather hopeless and undeniably third-class. The political parties in Great Britain--both the major and the minor parties--ignored the plight of animals and the protestations of those concerned about that plight. The people who help to direct the GECCAP campaign, myself included, felt that it was time the political parties listened to the people who were speaking out on behalf of animals. Therefore, we launched a campaign that was based on two simple premises:

    political candidates and elected representatives care about votes and campaign contributions;

    political candidates and elected representatives will care about animal rights when they are linked to votes and campaign contributions.

Proceeding from these assumptions, the animal rights movement in the UK succeeded in demonstrating a significant fact to the three major political parties: A sufficient number of voters would be influenced by a party's or a candidate's position on animal rights--and by a party's or a candidate's track record on animal rights issues.

During the 1979 and the 1983 general elections, GECCAP's platform was advanced by committee members, who attended the political parties' annual conventions and lobbied for its adoption. GECCAP members attended the annual conventions in nonelection years, too. Committee members also worked with representatives from local animal rights organizations who promoted the animal protection platform in the various parliamentary constituencies.

GECCAP's approach combined national and local action focused on the same program. This program was nonpartisan, and although its ultimate goals were abolitionist, no positive action for animals was derided--or worse yet, rejected--because it was considered unworthy of some philosophically or politically correct theory. We concerned ourselves with the real world, for that is the world in which animals suffer. As a result, the major political parties accepted animal protection as a legitimate political issue, one that was included in their manifestos for the first time. This acceptance came about after GECCAP had convinced politicians that their positions regarding animals could gain or could lose them votes.

In the 18 years since the original election committee was formed, other coalitions have carried on its work and have further established animal protection as a political issue. Consequently, veal crates are now banned in England, the single-sow stall will become illegal in 1999, many county and town councils have banned not only hunting with dogs but also circuses with performing animal acts from their land. The British county is the equivalent of a state in this country. All of these issues were included in GECCAP's original platform. [A footnote: I've just learned that at a recent conference in the U.K. organized by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals a reputed pollster reported that according to their research animal protection determined the election results in 25 marginal constituencies.]

Today's primary focus of the League Against Cruel Sports is to pass legislation to outlaw hunting. As many of you know, Britain's House of Commons successfully passed the second reading of a bill to outlaw hunting. This legislation is a private-members bill which means it is not a government-sponsored bill. Consequently, it is unlikely that this bill will become law because the Conservative government does not support the abolition of hunting. It is possible, however, that Labour will form the next government. It will then be the League's task to pressure the Labour Party to implement it's long-standing manifesto commitment to abolish hunting.

Today's primary focus of Compassion In World Farming is to outlaw the live export of food animals from Britain to the European mainland. There has been unprecedented public outrage and media coverage on this issue. People who would never identify themselves as animal rights activists have been joining demonstrations at the ports that permit the trade.

The abolition of hunting and the ban on the live export of food animals were part of GECCAP's original campaign that targeted the 1979 general election. The League Against Cruel Sports and Compassion In World Farming have remained focused on these issues for the last sixteen years. There are tremendous obstacles that both groups must still overcome, but their tenacity ensures their eventual success.

When I came to the United States in 1987 to become PETA's first executive director, I brought the memory of the putting-animals-into-politics campaign with me. The more I learned about the political climate in this country, both outside and inside the animal rights movement, the more I became convinced that a similar effort was needed here. Other obligations, however, prevented me from advocating the adoption of that effort until recently.

After I had become editor in chief of The Animals' Agenda, I defined its mission as "informing people about animal rights and cruelty-free living for the purpose of inspiring action for animals." Among the most important groups we need to inform about animal rights and cruelty-free living are the groups that comprise this nation's elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels. Toward that end, I have urged the formation of a professional association of animal advocacy groups that would represent the animal rights movement by presenting a united voice for animals. This group, modeled after GECCAP, would articulate a clearly defined animal rights mission; it would incorporate a legislative and public education program that would amplify the voice of the animal rights movement to the public, the media, and local, state, and federal lawmakers; it would establish a network for sharing expertise and resources; it would promote codes of professional conduct and ethics; and it would provide a framework for mediating disagreements between individual animal rights groups. Members of this umbrella group would continue to operate as individual organizations, but by its very existence it would emphasize the unity, and hence the strength, of the animal rights movement.

Given the increasing public support for our issues and the changing political fortunes in American politics--and the worsening tenor of the debate in some pockets of the animal rights movement--I believe more than ever that those of us who are willing to work cooperatively on behalf of animals must take the lead in forming a group such as GECCAP. Like GECCAP, this group must combine utopian visions and pragmatic politics, for only through the pursuit of such a strategy can the animal rights movement succeed in challenging the cultural, political, and scientific assumptions of speciesism on which animal abuse is predicated. The successful implementation of a strategy of utopian visions and pragmatic politics will achieve two goals. First, the community of [human] equals will be extended to include all nonhuman animals. Second, nonhuman animals will be accorded under the law the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture. Unless these goals are achieved, the animal rights movement will slip from the forefront of this country's movements for equality and will become, instead, a sad and desolate footnote in the history of our times.

I thank the committee once again for inviting me to speak. I hope my comments this morning have given this audience something to think about. These days, the more I read--and certainly the more I try to write--the more I appreciate Voltaire's comment, "Language is a difficult thing to put into words." It is also a most difficult thing to put into action.

Thank you.

Kim W. Stallwood
Editor in Chief
The Animals' Agenda
3201 Elliott Street
P.O. Box 25881
Baltimore, MD 21224, U.S.A.

Tel: (410) 675-4566; Fax: (410) 675-0066;
E-mail: 75543.3331@compuserve.com

May 1, 1995